A Look at Today (12.19.06)

Today’s Reading

First Reading: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 71:3-4, 5-6, 16-17
Gospel: Luke 1:5-25 

Today’s Diocesan Events, Happenings

    ABILENE — Sacred Heart, Advent Night of Prayer, 7 p.m., for priests, sisters, deacons and their wives of Abilene Deanery.

Today’s Headlines from CNS

U.S.

President of Xavier University receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Norman Francis, the president of Xavier University in New Orleans for 39 years, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, during a Dec. 15 White House ceremony. During the presentation in the East Room, where Francis sat on the stage alongside nine other medal recipients, the longtime president of the nation’s only historically black Catholic university was praised for being “a man of deep intellect and compassion and character.” In his remarks, President George W. Bush described Francis as the longest-serving university president in the United States and someone who has dedicated his life to education. He noted that Francis, who received his undergraduate degree at Xavier, was the first African-American to graduate from the Loyola University College of Law, also in New Orleans. Bush remarked that, after Hurricane Katrina’s damage to the Xavier campus, “Francis vowed the university would overcome and reopen its doors by January — and he kept that pledge.” He also noted that Francis continues to help the people of his state as chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority formed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

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Construction to begin soon on Catholic-backed clinic in Haiti

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — After nearly 10 years of working through three different Haitian government administrations, the Visitation Clinic and Hospital project in Petite Riviere de Nippes Haiti is under way. “We’re thrilled that we finally, after a long struggle to get the Haitian government to approve both the clinic and the hospital, can at least begin construction of the clinic. We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Theresa Patterson, executive director of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas. It is being built in an area of Haiti where there is essentially no health care for 254,000 people. The facility will serve the region’s primary care needs but also will be a specialty referral center for the entire country of Haiti. There is only one doctor for every 8,000 Haitians. The average life expectancy for women is 51 years; for men it’s 48. Ninety-nine out of every 1,000 babies die before ever reaching childhood. Patterson is hopeful construction of the clinic will be completed by July or August 2007.

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Researchers urge better auditing, fraud response in Catholic parishes

VILLANOVA, Pa. (CNS) — More than four out of five U.S. dioceses have experienced embezzlement or other misuse of parish funds within the past five years, but only two-fifths have formal written fraud policies, two Villanova University researchers said. Villanova business school professors Robert West and Charles Zech reported that according to a national survey of chief diocesan financial officers 21 percent said the diocese “seldom or never” audits parish finances and only 3 percent said such audits are conducted every year. The most common practice, they found, was to have a diocesan audit when a parish has a change in its pastor or bookkeeper. The median reported time between audits was four years. The researchers recommended that all parishes undergo internal audits every year, supplemented by an external audit at least once every three years. They recommended all parishes and high schools submit financial data to the diocese at least annually and preferably more often.

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Sisters of St. Joseph handling ‘press’ of business

LAGRANGE PARK, Ill. (CNS) — In the basement of the Sisters of St. Joseph motherhouse in LaGrange Park sits a hulking piece of equipment with a small wooden statue of St. Joseph perched on top. The Hewlett-Packard Indigo 5000 digital press is the centerpiece of St. Joseph Press, which produces booklets, greeting cards, calendars and newsletters for a variety of religious and nonprofit organizations around the country, and is the pride and joy of Sister Judy Sikorski. Sister Judy, press operations manager, has the no-nonsense manner of someone who spent 41 years as a Catholic schoolteacher and administrator. When she retired as a principal in 2002, Sister Judy never thought she would have a second career in the printing business — a business in which her father worked as a typesetter. She took a 100-day sabbatical and had agreed to teach one more year, when she was told the sisters had decided to open a print shop, and they wanted her to take charge. She finished her last year as a teacher, then took her new assignment — with little trepidation.

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Apostolate urges Kwanzaa celebrations reflect sacredness of life

NEW YORK (CNS) — The head of the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life in New York has urged that Kwanzaa observances between Christmas and New Year’s Day reflect the sacredness of life. “Kwanzaa for Life 2006 is an occasion for us African-American Catholics to renew our value of family life, celebrate our heritage and defend the sacredness of life,” Franciscan Father James Goode said in announcing Kwanzaa for Life 2006. “Our contribution as black Catholics to Kwanzaa for Life will be to choose life and help our community choose life.” This year marks the sixth annual Kwanzaa for Life sponsored by the apostolate, which is supported by all the major black Catholic organizations in the United States. Kwanzaa is a nonreligious celebration of African-American history and culture, focusing on community and family. The seven-day festival begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

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WORLD

Pope asks world to do more to meet needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI appealed on behalf of Iraqi refugees in Syria, asking the international community to do more to meet their needs. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in October that 450,000 Iraqis had taken refuge in Syria, with at least 40,000 more arriving each month. Many of the refugees are Christians. “My thoughts today go to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria, forced to leave their country because of the dramatic situation experienced there,” the pope said at his noon blessing Dec. 17. The pope pointed out that the Syrian branch of the Catholic aid agency Caritas was working to help refugee families. “In particular I call on the sensitivity of individuals, international organizations and governments to make additional efforts to meet (the refugees’) most urgent needs,” he said. “I raise my prayer to the Lord, that he may give comfort to these brothers and sisters and stimulate generosity in the hearts of many,” he said.

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Pope meets B’nai B’rith leaders, says all faiths must work for peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Peace will come to the Holy Land only if Jews, Christians and Muslims seek it together, Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from B’nai B’rith International. Representatives of the Jewish human rights organization met the pope Dec. 18 at the Vatican. “I reiterate my unfailing hope and prayer for peace in the Holy Land,” he told them. “Peace can only come about if it is the concern of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, expressed in genuine interreligious dialogue and concrete gestures of reconciliation,” the pope said. “All believers are challenged to show that it is not hatred and violence, but understanding and peaceful cooperation which open the door to that future of justice and peace which is God’s promise and gift,” Pope Benedict said. The pope also told his guests he thanked God for “the remarkable transformation” in Catholic-Jewish relations since the Second Vatican Council.

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No room at the inn? Vatican Nativity scene gets more figures

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican’s 2006 Christmas tree did not turn out to be the tallest ever, but its Nativity scene is definitely the most populated. In addition to Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the three kings, the creche in St. Peter’s Square also features peasants, a flutist, a bagpipe player and a shepherd named “Titaoca.” The inclusion of Titaoca, who carries a baby lamb under his arm and kneels in adoration before the baby Jesus, is typical of Nativity scenes in northern Italy’s Trent region. He is one of 17 new figures, on loan to the Vatican, that are the handiwork of sawyers and sculptors from Tesero, a town of 2,700 people high in the Alps of Trent. The Vatican Nativity scene officially is unveiled Dec. 24 and remains in the square until the Feb. 2 feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

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Church must show it believes women are equal, speakers say in Rome

ROME (CNS) — Unless the Catholic Church can show the world concrete models of male-female cooperation in positions of responsibility and decision-making, the church will continue to struggle against charges that it is chauvinistic, said Mary Ann Glendon. The Harvard law professor and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences said church teaching that women and men are equal, but not identical, is a healthy corrective to the feminism of the late 20th century, which, she said, promoted a “unisex society.” Glendon and Lucetta Scaraffia, a professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University, spoke at a Dec. 15 Rome conference on “Feminism and the Catholic Church.” Both women argued that, despite a widely held prejudice, for centuries the Catholic Church has been a key promoter of women’s dignity and equality, particularly by offering them education and through women’s religious orders, which raised up generations of strong, creative leaders.

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Franciscan calls for hope as Christmas festivities begin in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — As Palestinian infighting spilled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, the Franciscan “custos” of the Holy Land and the mayor of Bethlehem signed a document supporting the start of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. “We see struggles, fighting, conflicts and the (Israeli separation) wall, but we have to believe that after all goodness and love will prevail,” said Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is in charge of Christian sites in the Holy Land. “Despite the difficulties we want the faithful to say hope still exists … and in spite of all the difficulties Christmas in Bethlehem is every year a unique experience. … This day should at least be one day of smiles for the children.” The Dec. 15 ceremony saw heavier than usual security, with armed police on hand with the signing and for the official lighting of the Christmas tree following the ceremony.

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PEOPLE

Cuban cardinal meets with U.S. legislators, calls visit ‘interesting’

HAVANA (CNS) — Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino called a mid-December visit to his nation by 10 U.S. legislators “very interesting.” “It seems to me that they have a favorable attitude, and at this time of year, when Christmas is near and we are so in need of peace and dialogue among human beings, I consider this mission interesting, very interesting,” said Cardinal Ortega, archbishop of Havana. The cardinal met Dec. 16 with the U.S. congressional delegation of six Democrats and four Republicans. “It was very pleasant. The legislators were pleased with our conversation, and I was pleased with them,” he told Catholic News Service Dec. 17. “They want an improvement in the U.S. government’s relations with Cuba, and they have addressed various issues with Cuban officials.” Asked about current prospects for bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States, the prelate replied that “everything depends on attitudes there in the United States.”

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Sister Jeannine Gramick honored as Mother Teresa laureate

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) — Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick has been honored as a laureate of the 2006 Mother Teresa Awards, sponsored by the St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art in Albuquerque. The award, presented in November in Los Angeles, acknowledges Sister Jeannine’s “role as American human rights activist, ministering to Catholic gays and lesbians.” Dan Paulos, director of the awards, said in a statement that like Mother Teresa and her nuns showing courage to help those with AIDS, “Jeannine Gramick exercises compassion to gays and lesbians who are full of life — offering them hope in a world where they are too often discriminated against.” In 1999, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ended the gay-lesbian ministry of Sister Jeannine, then a School Sister of Notre Dame, and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent after determining that they furthered “doctrinally unacceptable” assertions “regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.” After the School Sisters of Notre Dame threatened to expel her for defying the Vatican’s ban on her ministry to homosexuals, Sister Jeannine joined the Sisters of Loretto in 2001 and said her transfer to a new religious community made the Vatican’s silencing no longer valid.

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President of New Orleans’ Loyola University reflects on past year

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University New Orleans, knows all about one-two punches. The avid amateur boxer has seen his fair share of double blows since Hurricane Katrina and the floodwaters that followed it. The school, requiring about $5 million in repairs after Katrina, was relatively spared from wind and water damage since the floodwaters stopped at the edge of the campus. But that’s not to say one of the worst storms in recent U.S. history did not have an impact on the university. More than a year later, the 95-year-old school continues to experience a financial fallout from Katrina since it was closed for one semester but continued to pay salaries. It also currently faces an enrollment decline particularly in the freshmen class.

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